I turned forty last month. My birthday fell while we were visiting my extended family in Ireland, so it was lovely to catch up with my three sisters (with “middle Meave” putting in a surprise appearance all the way from Singapore), my parents and a plethora of nieces and nephews.
The big celebration was back in Switzerland, where I marked the occasion with an evening of music. Ten years earlier I had tried to get 30 different people up on stage in the course of an evening to mark the previous big birthday. I fell short by two that night, so with another decade of finding friends (!) and a bit of extra preparation I decided to go for 40 this time.
The venue was, once again, Mulligans pub, which is the closest thing I have to a spiritual home in Geneva. And it was… well, words can’t really capture it. Maybe the photos below will.
The evening surpassed all my hopes and expectations, and we managed to surpass the target, hitting a total of 43 performers on the night. I was fortunate that my good friend and musical compadre David Graham flew across from Dublin to add some much-needed and appreciated guitar and vocal support to many performers.
I opened the proceedings myself with my own song Have No Regrets, and then David and I got warmed up with our old favourite Weather With You.
First up, a family affair. Geertje, Frans and their kids re-wrote a recent French pop hit, Andaluce, with lyrics in French and English about my tendency to talk a lot and to switch careers often. An amazing effort, and very touching!
Emmanuel was next up, delivering a sweet and heartfelt Fields of Athenry.
Nadine (not “my” Nadine) sent me a long list of all sorts of wonderful songs from which to choose. I picked Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors, partly because it’s a great song and I knew she would do it justice, and partly because I knew David could play along, which took a little pressure off me!
Mike seemed right at home on the stage, taking up a classic folk-singer pose with pint in hand. We eventually managed to get Rebecca to step out of his shadow and together they contributed a rousing Wild Rover to the proceedings. It was the perfect opportunity for Maurice to make the first of his many appearances on keys.
Karin brought a soupçon of punk to the occasion with her Patti Smith-inspired version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. David again did the necessary on guitar.
Caspar’s classy double bass playing was certainly a highlight for me. Our first tune together – Van Morrison’s Moondance – was probably the best of the three we played together, with Caspar really getting stuck into it and David laying on some nice lead guitar licks. We also played The Joker and Tainted Love together during the course of the evening.
Nadine and I worked on our Frank’n’Nancy duet for many weeks before the big night and got it just about right on the night. We followed Something Stupid with one of my own songs, a duet called Dear Liza…and she popped up on two or three further occasions in the course of the evening. There’s so much more I could say about her here, but she knows it already. 🙂
My neighbour and friend Christian would not usually be the first person to step into the limelight, particularly when it comes to musical performances, so I was delighted when he suggested joining me on what is the only Swiss song in my repertoire, Stéphane Eicher’s Déjeuner en paix. We weren’t far off nailing it.
Mandy’s Karma Chameleon raised the roof, proving a very popular singalong choice. You could tell she’s a bit of a karaoke queen!
The roof was raised even further with that ultimate of singalong songs Country Roads. Tonya and Mia led the pub choir, while Maurice vamped along on the keyboard.
Chantal and I have duetted on More Than Words quite a few times now. She sang her part with aplomb, as usual. (And I sang my part with a Plomb! Kind of an in-joke I guess…)
Next up, Sarah gave the tiles of Mulligans a battering as she high-stepped her way – unaccompanied – through an Irish dance called St Patrick’s. Very impressive!
Becky and I go way, way back, so I was thrilled when she told me she was flying across from Ireland for the party. (As it happens, David and I had provided the musical entertainment at her 40th in Ireland last year, so in a way she was repaying the favour.) Having worked our way the previous evening through many possible songs for her to sing, we finally settled on Britney’s Baby One More Time. A great choice and she did a fantastic job!
Becky was then joined by her husband Maurice for a reprise of a song I first heard them singing together at their wedding, the Johnny and June Cash song Jackson. David drove it along nicely on the guitar.
When Bram and Helen told me ahead of the night that they planned to sing the Keane song Everybody’s Changing, I thought it was, for them, an odd choice. All became clear when I realized they had rewritten the words for the occasion: “…he tries to stay awake when he gets on the train, he drinks a lot of beer and then goes to Nadine, now Eoghan’s turning forty and will it stay the same”. Sounds nothing like me!!
Elaine came fully prepared for her performance of Yellow Submarine, joined by Philippa, no stranger to the stage. It was a canny choice of song, ensuring a pub-full of backing vocalists. More piano from Maurice completed the package.
Mairéad, as I expected, kept things Irish with her choice of the Christy Moore classic Ride On. One of my oldest Geneva friends, and a constant supporter of my musical activities, it was a pleasure to accompany her. Maith an cailín!
Marc (looking as dapper as ever) arrived on stage with a sheaf of song sheets for me to choose from. I picked Can’t Stand Me Now by the Libertines. Our performance was probably a bit rough around the edges, but that’s entirely in keeping with the spirit of the band. (Thanks to David for music stand duties.)
“Is there anyone in from Manchester?” shouted Bob by means of introduction to the James song Sit Down. There was a steely determination to his singing, but it was a good thing that he had Nadine and Lisa there for back-up. There were chaotic scenes by the end as Nadine led a move to have everyone actuallly sit down in from of the stage, with mic stands and mixing desk almost pulled over in the process.
Another unexpected gem on the night was Charlotte’s version of Pharrell Williams’ Happy on her viola. Amazing! Great job from David on the guitar too, with me having thrown this one at him at the last minute.
Dan sang his own song, Brave, which is the the debut single of his band The Flocking Murmuration. It was a definite highlight of the night – many friends have singled out his performance in the days since. He also invited me to join him on Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, ensuring he didn’t bring along his harmonica in vain.
It was only very recently that I discovered Liv has been hiding considerable singing talent. We’re both big fans of James Taylor, so it was a delight to accompany her on Fire and Rain.
John and Yvette are two members of local Irish folk’n’trad band The Emigrants. They’ve been gathering quite a local following, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who heard their stunning performance of Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore and Gleanntáin Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair, the two songs sharing the same melody and sung as a kind of live mash-up. Another highlight!
Sheena and I have a dirty little musical secret in common, which is our shared appreciation of the music of Chris de Burgh. (There’s more to him than Lady In Red…seriously!!) Well it all came out into the open with her dramatic delivery of Patricia the Stripper, with Georgina performing an accompanying dance that didn’t go quite as far as the eponymous heroine of the song. (I was too busy trying to read chords off a smartphone to follow the dance in any case.)
Adrian was an unexpected addition to the list of performers, having only found out about the party during the rugby matches earlier that day. Usually a trad fiddler, he borrowed and (I think) re-tuned Charlotte’s viola to accompany me on a song I chose solely on the basis of his attire: Delilah.
Damian and Ruth came to the stage not knowing what they were going to sing. We quickly zoned in on the Beatles and chose another surefire singalong classic, Yesterday. Damian’s mic may or may not have been switched on, which may not or may have been a good thing! Ruth kept the show on the road in any case.
Gabe’s most significant contribution to the evening up to this point had been fulfilling his role as temporary glass collector. Little did we know that he was itching to join us on stage and demonstrate his impressive vocal stylings on Van Morrison’s My Brown Eyed Girl. Another welcome surprise on the evening.
Esbjorn joined us rather late in the proceedings but his performance was worth the wait. He chose I Will Survive and delivered it in his own inimitable style.
One performance that friends who were at my 30th birthday all seem to remember was The Final Countdown. They put the team back together again, perhaps with a small change or two, for a raucous but enthusiastic rendering. On stage were Paul and his ladies: Sheena, Jodi, Mel and Tonya, with Maurice on keyboards and David conducting us all with his guitar. It was messy (but not quite as messy as the Bohemian Rhapsody that followed it, led by Nadine – somehow we made it to the end in one piece).
Maurice left the keyboard behind to join David and me for the traditional towards-the-end-of-the-night outing of It’s The End Of The World As We Know It. We then rounded off the party with a Hey Jude / 500 Miles (I Wanna Be) combo, with guitar strings breaking left, right and centre.
And just when I thought it was all over, Kiwi Matt commandeered the mic to lead my wonderful friends in a chorus of Happy Birthday. Thanks Matt. A perfect ending to a wonderful evening.
Much respect and gratitude also to Félix, our trusty sound engineer, who somehow managed to keep up with the chopping and changing all night.
If you’ve read this far and were not there on the night, you should by now have a good sense of what happened. If you were there, the photos may have given your memory a necessary refresh! To everyone who came along, and especially to the performers, I can only say THANK YOU. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday party.
Finally, it was Becky’s excellent idea to get every performer to sign the poster. It’ll have pride of place in the music room, a special memento from a special night.